One of the most recent playoff rivalries is adding a new chapter: Patriots vs. Ravens. This rivalry has been even and heated in the past few seasons. The Ravens are one of the few teams able to best the Brady Bunch in Foxborough. This is truly a clash of the titans. These two teams have been playoff machines the past few seasons and they usually end up encountering each other in December.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been the model coach/quarterback duo for a long time and show no sign of slowing down, especially at home. Boasting a 6-2 record this season at home they’re a tough team to trump on their own grass. Brady has been sterling the entire season, as expected, entailed with a team loaded with talent and top flight athletes. Though, the home field advantage is huge, there are two aspects of this team that are, in a sense, as dangerous as Brady: The running game and the defense.
There are two very important names to remember on behalf of the Patriots: Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. These two young backs rushed for a total of 1514 yards this season, the larger majority of the unheard of 2100+ team yards the Patriots rushed for this season. Tom Brady with a running game is one of the most difficult offensive attacks to contain. Though, Vareen is 4th on the team in rushing, he is a hot hand for New England right now. Having a potent rushing attack will keep even a veteran defense like Baltimore honest.
The defense of this team is unheralded, and packed with unknowns that are perfect soldiers for Bill Belichick. In Belichick’s defensive “Multiple-Front” style defense all players are asked to play all positions at their level in the defense. To exemplify, Rob Nincovitch, primarily an outside linebacker is often seen at the middle linebacker position. This defense is well coached, young, athletic and tougher than people believe.
The Baltimore Ravens. This team is riding the coattails of Ray Lewis’ retirement announcement. This energy has truly brought back the Baltimore defense we’ve all come to fear. There is only one antidote for Tom Brady and that’s constant pass rush. This defense is loaded with a front that can get after the passer with the likes of Paul Kruger, Haloti Ngata and of course, Terrel Suggs. Ray Lewis will orchestrate and invigorate the Baltimore defense and be prepared for Brady.
Ray Lewis will be pivotal to the success of the Baltimore Ravens in this match up. He must have an impact in halting the volatile Patriot’s rushing offense. He must make big plays against young running backs and make an impression on them early. Once they contain the rushing attack the afore mentioned pass rushers can pin their ears back and disrupt Brady’s notorious rhythmic passing.
The Ravens did already best the Patriots this season 31-30 in Foxboroug. So, they’ve proven they can slay the mechanically perfect system that is; The Patriots. Yet, on the same token, rarely does Belichick lose twice to the same team.
Offensively Joe Flacco needs to remain on his hot streak and hand the ball to Ray Rice as much as possible. The Patriots stopped Arian Foster yet; they are facing a much different style of runner in Ray Rice, much more physical and powerful. Joe Flacco needs to keep up with Tom Brady’s pace if the run game is obsolete. This is a tall order for anyone, let alone a questionable quarterback in Joe Flacco. This said; Joe Flacco won the game for the Raven’s in the last AFC Championship game except, Lee Evans dropped the ball in the end zone.
This game is going to be tightly contested and just as suspenseful and unpredictable as the last few playoff matchups between these teams. I predict a 34-31 Baltimore Raven’s Victory in Foxborough.
This game is the ultimate matchup between finesse and physicality. These two teams have absolute polar opposite approaches to the grid iron. To accurately depict how this game will conclude requires scrutiny of what type of teams win in the playoffs. They say; if you want to win in the playoffs you better pack your defense. Yet, so many factors can negate this, specifically in this match up.
Let’s talk about defense. The 49ers defensively have been absolutely dominant, spear-headed by the front seven. When you look at the players that make a living in the trenches you will easily find dominance. Names like Patrick Willis, NaVarro Bowman, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and even an unsung “Because of the system” guy like Ahmad Brooks, compile a coterie of defensive perfection. This front seven will be tested against one of the toughest and nastiest offensive lines on behalf of the Atlanta Falcons. This defense must apply pressure early on Matt Ryan and those inside backers need to cover Tony Gonzalez, who had four receptions for first downs in 3rd down last week against the Seahawks.
Although, when you imagine the Red and Gold, you find yourself over-looking a solid offense that has an X-factor in Colin Kaepernick. Colin is a young, athletic and uncharacteristically poised quarterback, especially in the playoffs. No one believed that he could keep up with Aaron Rodgers, but Rodgers is the one who couldn’t keep up. Colin has a lot to prove in this game against the Falcons in that immensely loud dome. They will have to lean on “The Inconvenient Truth” Frank Gore and slow down the pace of the game to keep Atlanta’s offense cool and seated on their benches.
On Atlanta’s side of the field it’s all about energy and momentum. This team needs to get hot and keep momentum throughout the game. This 9er’s defense in my opinion is the best in the league and will attack Matt Ryan. These defensive backs will be very physical with the Falcon’s receivers at the line of scrimmage. Once again, the pivotal match-up in this game will be Gonzalez versus who ever tries to cover him. The one major difference is the linebackers and safeties assigned to him are far more athletic and intelligent than the ones Seattle enlist. Patrick Willis is over all one of the best defenders this game has ever seen and although, covering Tony Gonzalez is no easy task, P. Willis will match up with him exceptionally well. Matt Ryan will have to watch these match ups, and try to hit Tony when NaVarro Bowman or Dante Whitner are covering him.
On the defensive side of the ball Atlanta needs to contain the young, enigmatic charge of Colin Kaepernick. They have to jam Crabtree at the line and bracket Vernon Davis to contain the passing attack. All this aside, the absolute imperative is to stop Frank Gore. Frank is one of the league’s premier down-hill runners. He’s a stout powerful frame that looks for someone to hit, very reminiscent of Earl Campbell. They need to bottle up the 9er’s running attack and force Kaepernick into making rookie mistakes.
Another note, do not let Kaepernick beat you with his legs, keep a safety or a backer spying him. The spy has to have a clock in his head and watch Colin go through his reads. From watching the film I’ve watched; Colin is a 1-2 run kind of quarterback. This means Crabtree (covered), Davis (covered) then he’s looking to run. His speed is electric and he runs with a disregard for his health. This blatant disregard can be taken advantage of by applying hard hits before he gets a chance to slide.
To me, this game will come down to two things: Turn overs and special teams. Whoever manages to make the least amount of mistakes in these two categories will punch their ticket to Super Bowl 47.